Tips on an Adventure I'm Planning

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Hello,

So, I'm planning on having the players stumble upon a fake town. Like, everyone is in on it except for them. The problem I'm having is making it seem slightly fake enough so that they will know that something is up, but not making it too fake so that they think I'm just being a bad DM. Anyone have any ideas for stuff that the players can stuble upon that will hint that something is up in this town? 
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It's hard to give useful advice on this because there really are no guarantees. Some players will see right through it, others won't get it at all. In my opinion, the best way to accomplish your goal is to bring the players in on it with leading questions:

"Something doesn't seem right about this innkeeper. What's he doing that tips you off that maybe this isn't his real job?"

Or something like that. I'd have to know a bit more about your scenario or location to come up with better leading questions. All that really matters is that you plant a seed of doubt. The exact details about how or why something seems fake don't exactly matter to the DM, only to the players. So you may as well let them tell you what's suspicious.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

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It's hard to give useful advice on this because there really are no guarantees. Some players will see right through it, others won't get it at all. In my opinion, the best way to accomplish your goal is to bring the players in on it with leading questions:

"Something doesn't seem right about this innkeeper. What's he doing that tips you off that maybe this isn't his real job?"

Or something like that. I'd have to know a bit more about your scenario or location to come up with better leading questions. All that really matters is that you plant a seed of doubt. The exact details about how or why something seems fake don't exactly matter to the DM, only to the players. So you may as well let them tell you what's suspicious.

How about they behave like bad NPCs in a computer game?


Repetitive conversations, only a few topics?  Bad pathfinding, as the townsfolk continually bump into walls?


Maybe a further question, how is it fake?  And why?    
How about they behave like bad NPCs in a computer game?


Repetitive conversations, only a few topics?  Bad pathfinding, as the townsfolk continually bump into walls?



I like this idea

"Welcome to Corneria"
"I AM ERROR"
"I like shorts! They're comfy and easy to wear!"

you can have the dumber fake people only show up as the characters get more curious, the background people are the completely inept, if the point of the fake town is to get them in and out quickly so that the fakeness isn't quickly realized, maybe something slows them down enough that all the awful things that can't hold up under scrutiny start to break down
Well, that's more of a comedy approach. 

A more sinister approach would be monotone voices, or peculiarly cadenced speech, limited conversation topics, dead stares, ennui, apathy toward significant events, strange or violent reactions to seemingly innocent topics.  The DM can play this by having all the NPCS reply in the same voice.


Perhaps someone the party knows is at the town now, and they aren't as lively as they were before.    
I could never understand why the example exerpts I would read about in roleplaying books never seemed to be anything like my games. There was back and forth, give and take, just as in my games, but then a bad thing would happen in the exerpt and... the players went with it. No complaints, no backpeddling, no questioning. Of course, these were probably fictional examples, but I wondered what I'd have to do to get my games to run like that.

I think the answer is "buy in," by which I mean the players willingly go along with what the DM has set up even if the DM is tripping every cliche in the book. The players see what's coming and they basically let it come. Some players are really into this style. They get it (maybe even because they've played the adventure before) but they give nothing away. They're "roleplaying" as a player who hasn't played the game before.

If you have players like this, they're a godsend because not only will they play along, they can contribute to the atmosphere. You have them walking down a dark hall, and one says that their torch has gone out, oh, well, it's probably fine, we're almost to the end. Et cetera. They will do things to themselves that a DM couldn't do.

So, what I'm getting at here, is: try giving everything away. Bring them in on it. Tell them that THEY know the city is fake, but their characters don't. Even tell them that if they want their characters to know, that's fine too, but I bet a few of them won't and will even disbelieve the one who knows.

If they don't react that way, there's a fairly good chance that they either would have figured out the mystery in advance regardless of your efforts, or been uninterested in it even when it was revealed. Those who are "bought in" will not try to spoil the mystery too soon AND will at least act surprised when it's revealed.

All in all, surprises are tricky, for the reasons you mentioned and more, and I recommend against them for the most part. But good luck, with whatever you try.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

How about they behave like bad NPCs in a computer game?

Repetitive conversations, only a few topics?  Bad pathfinding, as the townsfolk continually bump into walls?

Maybe a further question, how is it fake?  And why?    



Yes, I like those ideas. Kinda creepy if you ask me. These are all things that the DM can come up with - or the players can too, when a leading question is put to them. Exactly the way we're brainstorming here on the forums can be reproduced at the gaming session, only it'll be the players suggesting things they find interesting or weird or freaky... and then being interested or weirded/freaked out by it. If it's just the DM coming up with it, maybe it works, maybe it doesn't.

I especially like the repetitive conversations. I'd have some fun with that if that's an idea my players suggested.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Well, that's more of a comedy approach.



I'm nothing if not consistent
I think it makes sense to make the characters the impetus. Maybe they see an NPC die with their own two eyes, but he's alive and well the next day. Maybe a character summoned the players saying the people in the town were acting weird and something was happening, but when they arrive he's acting odd and says everything is fine. You can be pretty direct.
A few guidelines for using the internet: 1. Mentally add "In my opinion" to the end of basically anything someone else says. Of course it's their opinion, they don't need to let you know. You're pretty smart. 2. Assume everyone means everything in the best manner they could mean it. Save yourself some stress and give people the benefit of the doubt. We'll all be happier if we type less emoticons. 3. Don't try to read people's minds. Sometimes people mean exactly what they say. You probably don't know them any better than they know themselves. 4. Let grammar slide. If you understood what they meant, you're good. It's better for your health. 5. Breath. It's just a dumb game.
Oh, I really like the idea of having them give monotone speeches when approached. I was gonna shy away from making it seem like an RPG with the people giving the same canned responses, but I think I'll have them casually just say something like "I don't know how to answer your question" or something to that tune if they're asked about any personal details of their lives that I haven't pre-scripted. I was also thinking, in a Inn, I can have an object that makes the smell of food appear and it's in the kitchen, but there is no actual kitchenware. 
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